Your kids worry about polar bears drowning in the arctic; you’ve seen the news of reduced snow packs, food shortages and prolonged droughts; images of starving children in Haiti haunt you as you fill your ravenous SUV at the pump. In the past few years, global warming has morphed from controversial theory to heart-wrenching reality, leaving each of us shaken and asking, “What can I do to help?”
The good news is – solving the climate crisis depends as much on changing our personal habits and lifestyles as it does on innovations in industry and political will. We all have a critical role to play.
So, where do we start? Guilty of producing 21% of the world’s carbon emissions with only 5% of its population, we Americans need to seriously rethink how we live our daily lives. Here are a few changes we can make in three areas – transportation, food and housing – to start reducing our super-sized carbon footprints.
Trade in your gas guzzler for a more fuel-efficient car. Options to consider:
- Hybrids (self-recharging battery and gas with up to 50 MPG)
- Plug-In Hybrids (can get up to 100 MPG for trips under 30 miles)
- Electric (small cars for errands- 67% est. cost savings)
- Hydrogen Cell (now used in fleets, available to public in 2010; 40% cleaner emissions with 50% operation savings)
- Switch from diesel (already 30% better MPG than gas, but polluting) to biodiesel for 78% cleaner emissions. No conversion necessary in cars after 1994. real time Diesel can also be replaced with local restaurants’ recycled and cheap cooking oil.
- Convert or buy new ethanol-friendly car to use ethanol-gas blend up to 85% – E85 to reduce oil dependency
- Use a fuel-efficient scooter for fair weather errands (up to 100 MPG)
- Park your car and take public transit – light rail, subway or bus
- Car pool with co-workers
- Ride a bike and forget going to the gym
- Walk or skate
The average American creates 2.8 tons of CO2 emissions each year by eating – even more than the 2.3 tons each of us produces by driving (assuming 2 persons per mid-sized car)! Our choices at the supermarket (or farmer’s market) really do affect the health of our planet. Suggestions for a Low Carbon diet:
- Buy locally grown and produced food whenever possible. Transportation of food products from abroad or trucked across our country is the main reason our food carbon footprint is so high. Say No to bottles of water imported from Fiji or France and get in the habit of drinking from your tap, which is often of higher quality.
- Avoid excessive packaging – especially with non-degradable petroleum-based plastics ( those water bottles again).
- Buy organic products to support earth-friendly and sustainable farming, and to get the most nutrients from your food.
And now for the whopper. The average home in the U.S. produces around 6 tons of CO2 emissions each year! Clearly we need to make some changes and green our homes. Here’s how:
- If possible, invest in alternative energy generation with a wind turbine or solar panels which could supply much of the average family home’s energy needs and even generate credit from the power company for the excess energy your home sends out into the grid.
- Seal all doors and windows to reduce air loss (think energy loss) from 25% to only 4%.
- Invest in energy-efficient appliances including HVAC equipment.
- Only run full loads of dishes and laundry.
- Keep the thermostat no lower than 68 degrees in the summer and no higher than 76 degrees in winter.
- Replace all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) which save 75% energy and last 10 times longer.
- Use lights sparingly.
- Invest in a home automation system to automatically turn down the thermostat and water heater at night and when you’re not at home, turn lights off as you leave the room, close or open shades depending on the heat, and regulate water use with automatic sprinklers. (Typical energy savings from HA systems is 25 -30%).